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Billings nonprofit reacts to state withdrawing federal pandemic aid



Billings, Montana – About 73,000 children in Montana are served by the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program; this summer, the state will not participate.

It turns out that there are problems in more than just one place.

Food is available in Family Service’s client-choice dining area.

It’s one of the food sources that will keep people from being hungry.

“They have the dignity of shopping for their own family, and then still have the meals to provide,” said Felicia Berg, Family Service development director. “So an individual or family can come in once a week and get a week’s worth of food.”

But Family Service and the government claim that people’s problems go beyond just getting enough to eat.

“Gas is expensive,” said Wren Greaney, Montana Food Bank Network advocacy manager. “Childcare is expensive right now. So we’re looking at all these different pressures on families and we’re really seeing that they need these benefits.”

The Montana Food Bank Network sent Gov. Greg Gianforte a letter that was signed by a number of groups.

They objected to the administration’s decision to withdraw from the pandemic electronic benefit transfer program before it was complete.

According to supporters, it would have given kids this summer $10 million in food aid.

“For this particular type of program that offers these particular families this EBT benefit, there’s nothing else that would replace it for this current time period,” said Greaney.

However, DPHHS’s director of communications Jon Ebelt wrote the following in an email response to Montana Public Radio that was received by Q2:

“Primarily, P-EBT is intended to offset the loss of access to school lunch due to the pandemic. School closures have not occurred this school year the same as during the pandemic. This was meant to be a temporary program. With the end of the PHE on May 11, 2023 – federal fiscal year 2023 will be the final year for which any child will be eligible to receive P-EBT benefits.”

“In addition, the reality is the requirements of the P-EBT program are labor intensive for both school districts and DPHHS. The program does not follow traditional SNAP processes or rules. Instead, it requires manual processes for data integrity, quality control and benefits issuance, which is a significant administrative burden for what was meant to be a temporary program. ”

“This is our tax dollars coming back to help our community and especially our children in our communities,” said Penny Ronning, Yellowstone County Area Human Trafficking Task Force co-founder and co-chair.

According to Ronning, there may be other drawbacks if the program is not implemented.

“You’re going to have a parent that is going to have to make a decision,” Ronning said. “Do I pay for food today? Do I pay our rent?”

The Montana Food Bank Network believes the information will motivate or be of assistance in other ways. “DPHHS, I certainly hope that this raises to a priority level for them,” said Greaney.


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